Movie #102: Easy Rider (1969)

Director: Dennis Hopper

Starring: Peter Fonda, Dennis Hopper, Antonio Mendoza, Phil Spector, Mac Mashourian, Jack Nicholson

Academy Award Nominations (1970):

Best Actor in a Supporting Role: Jack Nicholson

Best Writing, Story and Screenplay Based on Material Not Previously Published or Produced: Peter Fonda, Dennis Hopper, Terry Southern

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Following a drug deal in Los Angeles, Wyatt “Captain America” (Fonda) and Billy (Hopper) head through the American Southwest en route to New Orleans for Mardi Gras.  Along the way they encounter fellow hippies and others who don’t approve of their way of life.  They meet George Hanson (Nicholson), a lawyer who helps them get out of jail in Middle America.  Hanson is intrigued by their lifestyle and joins them for a time.

This film is a mystery for me.  I was born after the 1960s, and thus don’t have firsthand knowledge of a lot of the major themes this film addresses and works with.  I didn’t see the rise and fall of the hippie movement and things such as communal living.  I can understand how it was fresh, new, and had an appeal to the generation depicted in the film.

If you’re looking for a great road trip movie, this is probably one of the first of its kind.  In fact, I felt like half of the film was just Fonda and Hopper riding on their motorcycles while various songs played in the background.  There were lots of nice scenic shots, but I think they needed to cut those scenes back or add something else to it so it’s more than just the two main characters riding their motorcycles.  Easy Rider has a good soundtrack.  I will say I enjoyed the music selection.

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The contrasting portrayals of the two main characters was interesting.  Wyatt’s All-American stars and stripes everything and Billy’s more Native American portrayal added an interesting dynamic.  Though the two are free-spirit hippies, Wyatt seems to be the more rational of the two, while Billy is more skeptical and free-flowing.

In keeping with a countercultural theme, the cinematography in Easy Rider felt like it was cut and paste at times.  The most significant example was the LSD trip the guys and prostitutes have in New Orleans.  The film itself didn’t follow with conventional methods, per se.  Natural light was used during most of the filming, and something like that gives the film a more primitive feel to it.

easyridernicholsonJack Nicholson was great in his limited screen time.  His performance landed him the first of twelve Academy Award nominations for acting.  The quick, blunt wit was present with Nicholson even this early in his career.  Having seen a number of his films, his screen presence and entertaining performance isn’t any surprise to me.  It’s unfortunate he didn’t have more screen time.

It’s noteworthy that Toni Basil (sang the song “Mickey” in 1982) was in this film as a prostitute Wyatt and Billy meet in New Orleans.

Though it was culturally significant when it was released, Easy Rider doesn’t have the same impact it once had.  It tells the story of its time and the countercultural movement and emphasis on freedom and escapism.  Now that society is much further removed from that time period, the film itself hasn’t aged well in my opinion.  I’ve watched this movie twice now.  I don’t plan on watching it again.

My Rating: 2 out of 5 stars

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